"The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it."
- George Orwell
Definition of rhetoric
1 : the art of speaking or writing effectively: such as
a : the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times
b : the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion
2a : skill in the effective use of speech
b : a type or mode of language or speech also : insincere or grandiloquent language
3 : verbal communication : discourse
Definition of prose
1a : the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing
b : a literary medium distinguished from poetry especially by its greater irregularity and variety of rhythm and its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech
2 : a dull or ordinary style, quality, or condition
Definition of poetry
1 : verbatim speech
The average North American doesn't attend poetry readings or slams and it certainly doesn't buy volumes of contemporary poetry. We have been exposed to what Leonard Cohen would describe as "other forms of boredom advertised as poetry":
Inaugural Poem: "Praise Song for the Day"
Watch Poet Richard Blanco Read the Inaugural Poem
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers a poem at Joe Biden's inauguration
And now we see this:
Amanda Gorman Recites 'Chorus of the Captains' at Super Bowl LV
Today we honor our three captains for their actions and impact in a time of uncertainty and need.
They have taken the lead, exceeding all expectations and limitations, uplifting their communities and nation as leaders, healers, and educators.
James has felt the wounds of warfare but this warrior still shares his home with at-risk kids. During COVID he's even lent a hand, live-streaming football for family and fans.
Trimaine is an educator who works non-stop providing his community with hot spots, laptops, and tech workshops, so his students have all the tools they need to succeed in life and in school.
Susie is the ICU nurse manager at a Tampa hospital. Her chronicles prove that even in tragedy, hope is possible. She lost her grandmothers to the pandemic, and fights to save other lives in the ICU battle zone defining the front line heroes risking their lives for our own.
Let us walk with these warriors, charge on with these champions, and carry forth the call of our captains. We celebrate them by acting with courage and compassion, by doing what is right and just.
For while we honor them today, it is they who every day honor us.
That is it. Those are the only four 21st century "poems" that a sizeable minority, if not a majority, of North Americans have witnessed. (For what it's worth, Maya Angelou's poem from Clinton's 1993 inauguration was significantly better.)
Whether this is prose or rhetoric and whether or not we appreciate the heartfelt sentiments, it is not being memorized and performed--"covered"--the way songs are, the way poetry was when it was alive. These pieces aren't quoted at all, let alone from memory. By our inaction you, I, and everyone else--including the author--have spoken: "None of this is poetry." The lack of mnemonics (other that some overconsonance at Biden's inauguration) shows a lack of effort and/or intent to create poetry.
"But what is the harm?" one might ask of this misapprehension.
The next time someone tries to define poetry by its content, demanding that poetry be thought provoking or poignant, ask the person what prose authors they read. Suggesting that poetry has some monopoly on and obligation to limit itself to philosophy or romance, aside from being laughably easy to disprove, does a disservice to all of our communication. It delegitimizes the bulk of our canon: humor, biography, bawdiness, commentary, narrative, history, description, etc.
"Only ignorance is fatal."
On January 6th, 2021, the world saw what happens when deliberate misrepresentation becomes widespread. The only defense is education and reflection, preferably in that order.
Find some words worth memorizing. Carry them with you, using spare moments to learn them. Practice in a mirror. Make a video. Go to an open mic and perform them. Carry them with you for the rest of your life.
That is poetry.
The rest is wind.